My Millie Mae; A Puppy Mill Newfoundland
Millie as a puppy
Looking for a Soul Mate
It wasn't a hasty decision to take Millie, my Landseer, Newfoundland home when she was a puppy. I had just made the excruciating decision to have my beloved shepherd Lacey put down due to a debilitating brain tumor. Lacey was "the" dog that I had always hoped for. She was protective, loving and so well trained. My constant companion.
Typically, when one loses a dog, they have a waiting period between animals. Not me. I love animals and needed to fill the void that I felt with Lacey's departure. I already had a feisty, little Yorky named Spike and had also taken a Collie pup home that I appropriately named Jasper (due to his destructive, hyper and attention seeking behavior). I loved both of these dogs but the tenderness and soulfulness that I had received from my Lacey was missing in both of them. Perhaps you know what I am referring to? A dog that wears its soul outside. A dog that can look at you with eyes that contain a story. Lacey was that way and she filled so many emotional needs that I had. My Spike and Jasper filled the rambunctious, hyper active, get up and go needs that keep me busy and active. They are loving as well but seem to always be on watch for something to chase or bark at. They are the sentries and the protectors of the house. I connect with them on a different level. They don't let me into their souls like Lacey did.
I perused the Internet, looking for breeders of Newfoundlands for some time. I found one in Brooklyn, Michigan; about an hour away from me that wasn't asking the "going" rate of most breeders. According to the ad, this "breeder" also had Great Pyrenees and Labradoodle dogs as well. That should have been my first red flag. Reputable breeders typically do not breed many types of dogs; usually two at the most, but most stick with one kind of breed.
I called for an appointment and made the drive with my fiancée. As we drove up the long, winding driveway, we saw a compound attached to an old building and a large barn. The house itself had four cages stacked near the entrance with sickly, little kittens mewing and looking frightened inside. When I tried to approach the tiny, fur-balls, they retracted in fear. They apparently had no socialization and were afraid of humans.
The owner came out and was very friendly. He took us down to the compound and we saw one, large, male Newfoundland (apparently the stud) in his own caged area and about 15 female Newfoundlands of all colors in a large, open run with rows of doghouses lined up in a row inside. The dogs were craving attention and swarmed the fence trying to reach my extended hand. They resembled Newfoundlands with the large heads and body size but their fur resembled that of a Golden Retriever more than the standard Newfoundland. I questioned the owner about their purity and he was adamant that they were all purebred Newfs. I couldn't help but notice the severe matting of fur each of the females had and how filthy and smelly they were. They were all friendly and loving dogs but were not allowed out of the large pen to interact with me. The male, off in a distance kept barking as if needing attention too. I did not see any other breeds of dogs that were advertised on the website. When I asked, the owner said that their pens were on the other side of the compound.
The owner said that he had taken all of the Landseer female (my phone request) puppies and put them in a small pen for me to look at. We walked over to a make shift pen, made with chicken wire and a large piece of wood as a roof. There was straw sprinkled on the ground which was muddy in some areas. There were around six puppies in the pen. All filthy dirty and different sizes. All but one ran up to me and jumped up to receive interaction. One puppy, the tiniest one, had crossed eyes and my heart jumped a beat knowing that it would most likely not be adopted. Then, I glanced at the puppy that didn't run up to me. She was in the corner, head down, crying to herself. She did not have eye contact with anyone; not even the other puppies. She was the largest of the pups. She was covered in fecal matter and appeared to be afraid of us. I approached her slowly and picked her up. I spoke to her gently and held her close to my chest. She whimpered constantly and lay her head upon my shoulder. She smelled badly and covered me in the same fecal matter that was embedded in her fur. Then, she looked into my eyes. She had that soulful look in hers. Tears welled up in my eyes and I knew that in my heart, this was the baby I had to rescue. I asked her age and the man stated 2 months. From her size, I could believe it. I put her down, turned to my fiancée and the man and said that I needed some time to think about it. I walked away from the pen as it started to rain and left the pup crying loudly.
As we drove down the driveway again, I knew that this puppy would most likely have many health issues. She was filthy, frightened and living in a compound where it was apparent that dogs were bred for money only. None of the adults were pets. Only a means for profit. I felt sick to my stomach. My fiancée was as upset as I was. Even though this facility didn't have cage upon cage of animals, it definitely fit the title of puppy mill. None of the animals were pets. They lived without much human interaction. They lived in squalor; mud, feces and dirt surrounding them. There was very little shade over the compound and the water dishes looked filthy as well. Empty bags of dog food were strewn around on the grass. This wasn't a breeder that took pride in his beloved pets. This was a person that used animals to make a living. Unable to keep thoughts of that puppy out of my mind the next day, I called the man up and said I would be coming in a two weeks to get her. I had to wait until my next paycheck to pay for her.
I went alone this time. As the man welcomed me into his home, I saw a large cage covered with a blanket in the living room. I heard at least five dogs inside, barking and crying. He told me that he had penned up their family dogs to keep them out of the way. The kittens were still housed in the cages outside of the home. Many had debris coming out of their eyes and noses. I had to rush by so as not to get upset over seeing them.
The man had bathed my puppy and she looked so clean! She was laying on a blanket on the floor and was frightened of the both of us. I asked when her birthdate was. It was two months prior to the day I arrived to take her home with me. I asked why he had told me that she was two months when I first saw her? He stated that he lost track of the time. This upset me as I realized that he had taken her from her mother long before she should have been separated. If he had been showing her at 6 weeks, then he had to have been showing her at one month. This is much too young to take a pup from its mother. No wonder this puppy was showing signs of fear. I wanted to yell and cry but I kept calm so I could get her and leave.
After I paid him, he gave me a jug of yellowed water that looked as if it had bugs and debris floating in it. He said that this was the water she had been drinking and that she may get sick if I gave her water from my house. I dumped this out once I left his property. It sickened me to think that she was drinking something that was most likely contaminated.
I named her Millie Mae because she reminded me of an old soul. She sat next to me in the truck, laying on the middle seat; whimpering the whole way home. I was so glad that I could save her. I wish I could have taken them all. Those dogs all deserved a home that would provide them with love and proper care. Unfortunately, I could only save one.
Health Issues Galore
Millie bonded to our family and the other dogs immediately. She felt a need to be by my side constantly. I would hold her in my lap and she would snuggle under my chin to be as close to me as she could be. She loved the grass! It was as if she had never felt those soft, green blades under her paws before! She would roll around and bark loudly with a puppy smile on her face!
After Millie settled in, I began to notice her chewing. She bit and chewed her fur furiously, as well as her feet. I bathed her in skin soothing shampoos. I applied hot spot lotions. Nothing seemed to help. She then began to vomit a lot and I noticed worms in her vomit one day. I took her to the vet who found that she had not one but five different kinds of worms. She began a worming regiment that had to be repeated three times in order to cleanse her system of them. The "breeder" had told me that he had wormed her. I also found out that Millie had Giardia; a sickness that animals get when drinking water that is contaminated with feces. Now it made sense why the man wanted me to use that foul water he had given me. Millie was being poisoned with the water that was being given to those dogs!
Millie began to lose her fur as well. She couldn't stop chewing. I began to make her food myself. We took away all brands of dog food and she ate meals made of high proteins containing fish, oils, vitamins, beef, turkey and chicken. I added vegetables and wholesome grains as well like oatmeal, barley and brown rice. Her skin improved and her fur began to grow back but has never been thick and bushy like your standard Newfoundland. After she recovered, I found some expensive, high quality dog food on the market and eased her into eating that. Aside from some allergies to grass (of all things!), she hasn't had any outbreaks of fur loss since. I would have continued to make her food but it was very expensive to do.
With all of the health issues I encountered with Millie, I contacted the Animal Control Department that oversaw the Brooklyn area. I told them about the contaminated water, the worms, the conditions of the animals and their surroundings and explained that in light of all the puppy mills that are being discovered and closed down, that I thought they should make an unannounced visit to the place. A week later, I received a letter from them stating that they made an appointment to visit the "breeder" and his compound and found nothing that backed my story. The fact that they made an appointment and found nothing angered me. Of course things would be corrected and fixed by the owner with a week's time. Those poor animals would never be rescued and given the life they deserved. I still see this man posting various breeds of dogs on his site. He never has a shortage of puppies. This is not how reputable breeders work. I can only pray that one day, someone can bring attention to what is being done when they visit to find a puppy.
Millie in her second year
As Millie grew, she grew quickly. She is the soulful dog I had hoped for. When she looks into your eyes you can see her story. She has the gentleness and loving spirit that my Lacey possessed. She is still deathly afraid of strange men. Always has been. I can only imagine this comes from early treatment when she was a new puppy. She is also afraid of new people but warms up more quickly to children and women. She reacts adversely to cigarettes. Since none of us smoke I can only surmise that this stems from early memories as well. She is my gentle giant and so loving and playful. She weighs 120 pounds and is gorgeous.
Ever since she was a year, I noticed that when she walked, she twisted like a snake. Her body in the front would go one way and her body in the back, another. Recently, I saw she couldn't walk on her back, right leg. We visited the vet, took xrays and found that she has advanced hip dysplasia and that she tore the dog's version of her ATL. I am devastated about this. I had prayed that her health issues were in the past. The vet explained that her hip problems have been present since birth; that her situation is definitely genetic. The tear in her knee stems from the hips and she most likely injured herself while playing with the other dogs. This explains the funny way she walks. The vet explained that she has lived with this problem since birth but as she grew the problem became more pronounced.
I am helpless in helping my Millie at this point. If I could even afford the thousands it would cost to repair her knee, the hip dysplasia would not allow it to heal correctly. A surgery to fix her hips could exceed ten thousand dollars and while I deeply love my pets, they are pets. I cannot afford to pay for a surgery of this magnitude. Dogs often suffer emotional and other physical problems from surgery as well. I saw this with dogs I owned in the past that had to have surgeries on their face, shoulder and foot. They tried to maintain their past regiment and couldn't. This changed their patience with others and frustrated them.
I asked the vet what my options were. We decided upon giving Millie Glucosamine pills at a very high dose, Vitamin E for various benefits and easing down on her physical exercise. It is important that she still move but no more long walks for her. I take her instead to a park a couple blocks away and let her decide how much she chooses to romp and play. Within weeks, I have noticed a puppy-like behavior in her again but she still favors her back leg. She seems to be experiencing less pain but I realize that one day, her other knee will eventually give out and my dear Millie will let me know that it is time for her to join my Lacey.
I am angered most of all that people take advantage of dogs and use them for sources of income instead of giving them the life and treatment they deserve. Millie is so loving and loyal. If I hadn't brought her home, I shudder to think of what her demise may have been. I am happy that I have been able to give her a wonderful life with a loving atmosphere.
I only hope that this story will be read by people thinking of breeding dogs for profit. It is important that they realize their actions not only hurt the dogs but those who love them. I never imagined that Millie, at two years old, would be suffering from such a debilitating disease at such a young age. Each decision one makes has a domino effect in the future. My life, my family's life and the lives of my pets are affected by Millie's illness. Waiting for the day that she can no longer walk or live a quality life is like having a ticking time bomb in the corner of the room. I will never regret taking that scared, filthy puppy home with me. She has given us all so much love. I feel good knowing that I have given her the same.
© 2012 Laura Cole